Saturday, January 29, 2011

Make the Main Thing the Main Thing

       Priorities. How important are they? Could a business run without them? Can a home run productively without them? I don’t think so. Everybody has different priorities, though. What is the most important one?
       In a productive business office, the main priority would be to get the work done. Can the office staff accomplish that without the dedicated work of each person who works there? If people come in when they want to, or leave when they get ready, will the work be done?
        And what about homes? Certain tasks have to be done every day, while others must be done periodically to keep a home in good working order, and to maintain comfort. When the priorities in the home are forgotten, the house is usually a mess until somebody sets it right again.
        Some things bother us so badly we feel we have to do them. I heard about this lady who was explaining why she had missed church the previous Sunday. She said she couldn’t go to church that morning because she had to organize her lingerie drawer. She couldn’t stand another day opening that drawer and finding all her panties in a wad, I mean, her unmentionables in a jumble. Everything had to be neat or she couldn’t stand it. So she skipped church to take care of that task.
         Then there was the woman who told her pastor that she would not be able to get to church any more on Sunday because it was the only day she had to let her face rest. She had to get up every other day and put make-up on her face so she could go to work, and Sunday was the only day her face could rest, so she was going to start staying in on Sundays, to give her face a rest. (Both of these incidents actually happened!)
         Jesus taught us about priorities. He said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV) If our priorities are in the right place, everything else will be all right.
          Getting that quiet time in early, praying to God as a friend, trusting him completely—these things should be our first priorities. After that come the daily tasks. Work is pretty important. Without it, our livelihood would be severely cut back. Family is important. We must instill into our children values to make them productive adults, even though it may be unpleasant at times.
         Make a list of your priorities, then give this list to God in prayer. He will tell you which ones to put first. The next hard thing to do is to follow that list.

Age is Relevant

      At a meeting I attended recently, the leader said, “Look at yourself in the mirror tomorrow morning and say, ‘I am beautiful!’” I thought of what I looked like that morning and my first thought was, “I can’t tell myself that!”

      I cannot look at my face the first thing in the morning and honestly tell myself I am beautiful.  After a shower and a shampoo, a styling of my hair and some carefully placed make-up, I may be able to say, “Now I’m acceptable to go out into public,” but I don’t consider myself a beauty by any means!

      I think about many older people my husband and I have known in the past.  When we married, a delightful older couple lived down the hill next-door to us. They were playful, happy people. He was always patting her on the bottom and she frequently brought us freshly-baked bread. They may have been sixty years old, but to me they were ancient. When you are 19, your perception of “elderly” is somewhat skewed.

       As we served in churches where my husband was pastor, many older people graced the pews Sunday after Sunday. Then they arrived at the office during the week, offering to visit newcomers, to cook and clean in the church kitchen, to build a ramp for a member in a wheelchair, and to do numerous things that the younger, working people didn’t have time to do. I remember thinking how beautiful some of these people were because of their personality and their willingness to be of help, not because of the beauty on their faces. 

       Older people today continue to offer to help others, and to do things that other, younger people, do not have time to do. Their smiles, their willingness, the radiance showing in their eyes—these are the traits that let beauty shine through!  Outward appearance is not all there is. Happiness, a sense of purpose, and the love of God inside cause people to be beautiful on the outside.

       In our society, beauty is ascribed to the young. Rarely do you see pictures of elderly people in a setting of beauty, unless the ads are selling something to make the older people feel and look younger. Life seems to say, “You have lost your usefulness now that you are older.”  I look around today, and wonder where the time has gone. Today I am that older person.  My friends and I are the ones doing the volunteer work. I have earned this crown of silver hair that frames my face because I have been on this earth long enough to get it! (how's that for not telling my age?)

       When I was a child, there was a comic strip called ‘Pogo” about a possum who gave tidbits of wisdom along the way.  He would say, “We have found the enemy, and they is us.” Today I can say with Pogo, “We have found the elderly, and they is us!” But there is still a lot to do.  I’m not ready to give up yet! There is always another quilt to make, another picture to paint, another story to write, more books to read, and many more prayers to pray. And there are people who need our help. What can I do today to let the beauty shine through?

Changes in Our Churches

I have been a pastor’s wife since I married. I signed up for it. I was the daughter of a bi-vocational pastor, and my husband was a preacher when I met him. As a nineteen-year-old college student, I didn’t understand the fish bowl we would live in as a pastor’s family, but I learned fast.
If I was not at church, or if our children were not there, people were usually buzzing with questions. We thought of church as our second home and people expected to see us there. 
When pulpit committees interviewed my husband for the position of pastor, the question was usually asked, “What does your wife do?” They were anxious to get “two for the price of one.” I taught Sunday School classes, led children’s music groups, played the piano, and did whatever else was necessary, in addition to taking care of my family and working as a schoolteacher. I changed my hats often and quickly as the need demanded. I was a multi-tasker before the word was coined!
Another pastor’s wife once told me that her husband was not hired by a church because she could not play the piano. They needed both a pastor and a pianist, and they wanted both in the same family, for the same salary. That was common in the fifties and sixties, among our churches.
It is easier for pastors’ wives today. Now, if the question is asked, “What does your wife do?” the pastor usually says, “You are hiring me, not my wife.” Pastors’ wives are not scrutinized as severely as we were in the past. In addition, pastors’ children are regular kids and they feel resentful when they realize how closely church members are watching them. My own children have told me that they were aware of people watching them, waiting for them to mess up. And, to a degree, that probably still happens today in some of our churches. However, I hope the legalism is lessening, especially for impressionable children.
A matriarch of the church in the 1970’s surprised me with an audacious question shortly after we went to her church for my husband to serve as pastor. She said, “Do you work because you want to or because you have to?” What a question! I can still see that woman’s face and I remember standing speechless for a moment, as I contemplated my answer.
            Really, that was not her business, but I was not brave enough to tell her that. What I felt like saying was, “If the church would pay my husband what he is worth, I wouldn’t have to work.” However, I bit my tongue and said something about helping to supplement the family income. I had finished my college degree shortly before we moved to that church, and I was excited about beginning my career as a teacher, but she took some of the excitement away with her question. That same woman told me she didn’t want me in her Sunday school class because, as the pastor’s wife, I should be teaching somewhere.
            I don’t think that would happen in churches today.
            After my husband’s retirement from the active ministry, we moved our membership to another church in town. We arrived at that church on a Sunday night to find that the pastor and his family were not there. They had a family crisis with one of their children, so they stayed at home to talk it out and get it fixed. The pastor put his family first at a time when they needed to be first, and I applaud him for doing that. The family worked out the problem, all the children in that family are now in full-time Christian service, and we were just fine in the worship service with a deacon leading in the absence of the pastor. This would have been unheard in the days when my husband was a pastor. The deacons might have fired him if he had done that!
            Change has come into our churches in many ways since my debut as a minister’s wife. In those days, people didn’t clap their hands or raise them in church. Now, we realize clapping or raising hands is a way to worship. It’s hard to believe, but I have seen people walk out of church because the congregation clapped in appreciation of a song. Now we clap for baptisms, which is as it should be. Praise the Lord, another soul comes into the kingdom!
Another difference is in the way some people view divorce. Divorce in a preacher’s household used to mean the end of his ministry. There are times, however, when a man becomes a preacher after his marriage and his wife says, “I didn’t marry a preacher and I won’t be a preacher’s wife.” She cannot handle the pressure. We know preachers today who are still actively serving in churches, after their wives have walked away. We also know preachers who are married to their second wives, after a divorce. Divorce is no longer viewed as the “unpardonable sin” as it once was. We know some wonderful women who became preacher’s wives after their marriage, and are faithfully serving God and loving their husbands. My mother was one of them and she is still a witness for the Lord in the retirement home where she lives at age 91. We are also aware that some places are not as accepting of this as others are. Each church body is different.
Change has come, too, in methods used today. Our music is different. Our youth are different in the way they dress and the things they do. (Who could have imagined paintball or teen rock bands back in the 1950’s or ‘60’s?) In the early days of our ministry, guitars were not considered instruments for use in church. They were played in dance halls and saloons. But today guitars have been sanitized and sanctified, set apart for use in worship. We attended a church recently that had thirteen string instruments and singers on the platform, and nobody was playing the piano.
Change comes to every generation. We have to do what is necessary in order to reach people for Jesus. But praise God, He remains the same, our all-knowing, all loving heavenly Father. We still worship and praise that same awesome and holy God. We still bow our heads and talk to Him in prayer, and call upon Him in times of need and stress. We still lead people to faith in Jesus, the only way to salvation. We still see people coming down the aisle to accept him as Savior and follow Him in believer’s baptism. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 
            We did it our way, now church leaders are doing it their way. It is difficult for us, as older adults, to accept a lot of new things. But change is here. It is a part of our churches and our leadership. Let’s try to embrace and accept change, as people continue to come to our loving Father.      

The Awful Realization that You are Lost

Have you ever been completely lost, not knowing where you were or how you would get to where you were going? If you have, then you know the feelings of hopelessness and despair that can overtake you. You also know the feeling of having been found, the wonderful release that comes when you are rescued and your situation is set right again!
I was traveling on a train with two small children, returning to Missouri after visiting my parents in Texas. We arrived at the enormous old train station in Kansas City, but my husband was not there to pick us up. He had  misunderstood the time of arrival, and he was in a small town more than an hour away from where we were waiting.  I had a three year old and a 15-month-old and I was pregnant again. I couldn’t keep up with those two in that big train station, as they ran from place to place. I stood, watching my active toddlers, with my luggage and my pregnant body and thought, "I can't do this."
After talking to my husband and learning that he had been asleep in Bosworth, Missouri, about one hundred miles from Kansas City, I called the seminary my husband attended. One of his friends came and took us to his house where the children could play while we waited. However, in our haste for my husband to come and get us, somehow we had miscommunicated again. He drove directly to the train station. I talked to his friend after I talked to him, so he didn't know where we were. I was so anxious to get my little ones out of there, I forgot to call him again. But he was probably driving by then, and of course that was before cell phones or texting or any other instant communication that people today rely on
         When he arrived, my husband searched all over the station. He questioned the Ticketmaster, he called hospitals, he even went into the women’s restroom looking for a young pregnant woman with two small children. The startled women helped him look, but we were not to be found. He called the police, he called the morgue, he searched everywhere. He thought his family was gone forever!
         Hours passed as we waited and he searched. It was not much help when my son kept saying, “Where is daddy? When is he coming?” My tears flowed freely as I pondered that very same question!
          Finally I called back to our home town, and the girl working the switchboard at the old telephone company, who happened to be a member of the church my husband pastored, listened in on the call. She then relayed our location to my husband when he called back to our little town, frantically seeking information about his family. He finally found us eight hours after we had originally arrived!
I still remember the feeling I had when he drove up to the house where we were waiting for him. It was late in the afternoon and we had been there since early that morning. As he got out of the car and we ran to one another, his arms around me were all I needed to feel at ease. We had a wonderful reunion, as we drove home, so thankful to be together again! 
Home is when you are with the ones you love, when you are in a familiar place, when you feel that all is right because your family is together  There is no substitute for the feeling that comes when the lost has been found.
My husband often told this story as he preached through the years, comparing our being lost from each other to people who are lost without Jesus. When they finally turn to him and accept him as their Savior, there is no comparison for the feeling that comes. When you know you are home, safe and secure in the hands of the Father in Heaven, you are never lost again.
This was published in the St. Louis Suburban Journal January 19, 2011

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ole Jess

Jess sat on the steps of the school, eyes squinting in his wrinkled face as he shaded them from the sun.  He looked at the truck parked on the road with the words Texas Electric printed boldly on the side, and then eyed the burly workers. Using a post-hole digger, they made a deep hole, then manhandled the long wooden pole and dropped it into the ground, before pacing off fifty feet and doing it again. Across the gravel road, the poles were already in place and workers had strung wires on them at the top.  It was the mid-1930’s and the marvel of electricity was coming. Despite his objections, it was coming to him.
Jess thought kerosene lamps were just fine.  For years people had managed without this new-fangled electricity. Why do we need it now?  Why do folks always want to change things?  He liked things as they were and had always been.
Jess took care of the grounds at the Bluff Springs elementary school, a country community several miles from Fort Worth. He also cleaned the three classrooms, where 45 to 50 kids attended, with three teachers for the primary, middle, and upper grades.  A round pot-belly wood stove heated each classroom.  Each room had desks lined up in rows, bolted to the floor, chalkboards on two walls, and a pull-down map on the wall behind the teacher’s desk. 
 The kids called him “Ole Jess” because of his weathered face and white hair.  He limped a little when he walked, too.  But he was fiercely protective of the school.  He was the only man around, and he felt strongly responsible.  These women and kids needed a man around to keep a watch out for trouble.
All the kids played together at recess, from the first graders to the seventh graders. The swings and see-saw drew the kids first.  When the play equipment was filled, the kids jumped rope, played kickball or marbles, or ran races while the teachers supervised them. Of course, Ole Jess was always there during recess, one eye on the kids and one eye on those electric poles.
Jess worried about the electric wires being so near the school grounds.  He didn’t trust this new invention.  Why, they might even blow up and kill everybody on the playground.  Anything could happen. It couldn’t be safe. Therefore, he kept a wary eye on the kids unless they were inside the school building, out of harm’s way.
It was a hot Texas spring day. The electric workers peeled off their shirts and worked in their undershirts, continuing to plant the poles and ready them for the wires. After they strung the wires, they primed the poles with creosote to preserve the wood. Creosote was flammable, which made Ole Jess worry more. Why would they put that creosote so close to those wires, anyway?  A man could never get a minute’s rest, with the worry these electrical workers were giving him.
The teacher rang the bell, the children shuffled inside, and Jess flopped down on the steps as he wiped his brow with an old, red bandana. The kids were safe for a while.
Jess continued his mission—protecting the kids—day after day. One afternoon as he kept his vigil at recess, he noticed a small grass fire near one of the electric poles. Kids must be playing with matches. He panicked. That fire is too close to the pole.  The creosote will catch fire, the wires will explode and it will kill all the kids.
He rushed to the grass fire and tried to stomp it out, but the fire circled the creosote-covered pole and began moving up. He frantically put his big hands around the electric pole as high as he could. Holding tightly to the pole, he brought his hands down to the ground. He stripped off the flammable creosote and put out the fire with his bare hands.
Finally aware of the pain, Ole Jess held out his burned hands. Blisters were forming quickly, his hands were black, and splinters of creosote-covered wood stuck out from the tips of his fingers to his wrists, even in the big blisters. The teachers picked out the splinters and put salve and bandages on Jess’s hands. He was unable to use them for a few weeks as they healed.
But in his mind, the pain and inactivity was worth it all. He had been there when the kids needed him. He had averted an electrical explosion and saved the lives of the teachers and all those kids. 
And he would do it again.
This story won third place in fiction writing at the Heart of America Christian Writers' Network Conference, held in Overland Park, Kansas, November, 2010.
(This is an actual incident from my husband's childhood. He saw this happen. He used this illustration many times in sermons through the years, and he would say, "What are you doing to save those around you?")

The Old Swimming Hole in Texas

          My husband grew up in the country near Fort Worth, Texas. Their dad was foreman on a cattle ranch, so Charlie and his brothers, Ed and George, had endless land to play on—they could shoot squirrels and rabbits, trap coons (and sometimes get a skunk), and swim bare-naked in the creek, which they dearly loved to do.
            Ed was the oldest, then Charlie, then little George, who wanted so much to be like his big brothers. Ed and Charlie had learned to swim, but George was too little. They took the sled that they used to pull wood to the house, and George laid his body on that in the water. He floated while his brothers and their friends swam and played.   
           The boys and their friends would run to the creek, strip off their clothes, and take turns jumping in by using a long limber branch of one of the trees. What fun it was to drop into the cold water. George took his sled and went in from the bank, sliding in and staying close to the edge, as his brothers had told him to do.
            Then one day, as one of the boys jumped into the water, he accidentally upset the sled and George fell off. He didn’t know how to right himself. He struggled, trying to get hold of the sled again, but kept going down again and again. The other boys didn’t notice for a minute, then someone saw the empty wooden sled and said, “Where’s George?”
            Panic set in as the boys dove down in the deeper muddy water, searching frantically for their youngest companion. When one of the boys found him and drug him up on the bank, they all crowded around, each wearing his birthday suit, each trying to see what they could do to help.
            They had no idea what to do, but they rolled George over on his stomach and began hitting his back and pumping his arms. When water began to come out of his mouth and George coughed, those were some happy boys. They knew he would be all right.
            It was several years before their mother heard about it, though. They knew that if they told her, she would not allow them to go to the swimming hole again. George was all right, so Ed and Charlie kept it to themselves, and threatened George within an inch of his life if he told. Their parents didn'd hear about this little experience until all of the boys were grown.
This is a story from my book, "A Heritage of Faith". Click on the button to see how you can order it by direct mail.

Who IS This Child?

Who IS This Child?

     Our youngest grandson is seven. Only recently he made a decision to accept Jesus as his Savior and his grandpa baptized him. In some faiths, this is very unusual, but in the Baptist church, childhood conversions are common. All our children became Christians and were baptized before the age of 10, and this also occurred with our grand- children. Growing up in the home of a pastor, the children learn the answers early. But this little boy comes up with things that you can't believe happened in a seven-year-old brain.

     Just recently he was talking to his mom about his special friend, Mike (not his real name). Chachi and Mike were talking about how much they like each other. Chachi told his mom, "I said to Mike, 'I love you, and I would die for you.' He said, 'I would die for you, too.'"

     Then tears welled up in Chachi's eyes and he said, "Mom, I don't want Mike to die for me, because he doesn't know Jesus. If I die for him I will go to heaven, but if he dies for me, he will go to the other place, and I don't want that to happen to him."

     It was hard for my daughter to talk, after a statement like that, but she said to her son, "Does Mike go to church?"

     "I think so," said Chachi.

      My daughter said, "Then maybe he does know Jesus. You could talk to him and ask him if he knows Jesus, and if he doesn't, you could tell him about Jesus."

     That seemed to satisfy the huge burden on Chachi. He said he would talk to Mike about it, and crawled into his bed and went to sleep. While he lay there in dreamland, my daughter pondered the conversation they had shared. What thoughts to come from such a little boy!

     I reminded her of something Chachi said while we were all driving back from Texas for a Christmas visit. My husband was driving and he got a little close to the car in front of him. My daughter, in the back seat, yelled, "Dad, slow down, we're all going to die!"

     Chachi, in his car seat in the middle, said, "Well, mom, that wouldn't be so bad, would it? We all know Jesus. Everyone in this car has been baptized. If we die we just go to be with Jesus, don't we?"

     The adults in the car sat stunned. What things come out of this child's mind!

      One more thing--one day we were taking him home to babysit because our daughter had to work, and were having a deep conversation. He asked about what it meant to be a Christian, what the Lord supper meant, then he said, "I have a really hard question now, Grandpa. Who are you supposed to love more, God or your mom?"

     What is this child going to come up with next?  I stand amazed.